There are two thankless jobs in the Wolves' organization. First and most obvious are the poor saps who have to sell tickets, especially the ones to the luxury boxes. We here at Hoopus have no idea how the ticket reps we come in contact with do it. We'd loose our cool by mid-afternoon on our first day...which is probably why we're no longer in sales.
Second, the Wolves' TV crew has to fill roughly 4 hours of airtime per game night. Think about that for a moment. When the Wolves start a game out going down by 10 with only about 5 minutes run off the clock, what are you going to talk about? How are you going to spend several hours describing a team that can be entirely defined by a haiku?
McHale's ghost still here
Out manned? Yes! Sasha Hollins!
Lower bowl upgrade.
You know what I'm talking about.
After watching hours of League Pass, I really have an appreciation for the Wolves' TV crew, commercial free halftimes, post-game tutorials, and the hours and hours and hours of material that J-Pete and Hanny come up with to describe the team we are starting to run out of ideas about with the written word. "They're not talented enough," "they have future assets," and "Kevin Love is really good" can only take a guy so far.
Anywho, my favorite TV moment of the year happened during the first half of last night's game. The TV crew is constantly trying to make a sometimes unwatchable product entertaining and to assure fans that at some point somewhere down the road, all of this...well, crap...will pay off for the long term benefit of the team. Like it or not, that's part of their job.
This little fact often leads them down the road of getting players and/or coaches from the other team to draw comparisons from their squad's questionable past to their current success. This angle is ridden hard when teams like Portland and Atlanta come to town.
Last night the Wolves' new sideline reporter (and Telly-slayer) Robby Incmikoski asked Atlanta coach Mike Woodson to wax poetic about the parallels he sees between this year's Wolves and a past version of his currently upper-level Eastern Conference Hawks. The answer went a little something like this: "I suppose they do remind me of what we were going through 6 years ago."
At this point several thoughts rushed through my head. First, I felt bad for Robby. That answer must have been the sideline reporting equivalent of getting shot in the face by Dick Cheney. He was clearly going for something inspirational and he ended up getting pointed to the second thought in my head: Mike Woodson just compared the 2009/10 Wolves to the 13-win Atlanta Hawk squad that was probably the worst team of the decade.
My third thought was "Who on god's green earth was on that putrid team and how on earth would any of them remind Coach Woodson of the Wolves?" This question is the fan equivalent of getting shot in the face by Dick Cheney. The 04/05 Hawks were led by Al Harrington and Antoine Walker. They had young wings Josh Childress and Josh Smith, as well as a young Boris Diaw. They also had Kenny Anderson, Tom Gugliotta, Jon Berry, and Kevin Willis. This is the team that reminds Mike Woodson of the 09/10 Wolves? Ouch.
OK, it's time to think a few happy thoughts before I get to the big downer.
Kevin Love is a fantastic basketball player. Last night he finished with 19 rebounds (8 offensive) and 15 points on .500 shooting. He carried an absurd 26.9 oReb rate for the game. He had a team-high 1.02 points contributed per possession used (the next closest teammate was Al Jefferson with 0.85). He filled in the action outside of the box scores with wonderful outlet passing, solid screens, as good of help defense as he could muster alongside Al Jefferson, and a few of his patented 1-on-4 impossible tips to teammates.
The best Love highlight of the night brings up an interesting question about the diminishing returns of defensive rebounding. Namely, is a defensive rebound in the hands of Kevin Love worth more than a defensive rebound in the hands of Al Jefferson or Ryan Hollins? The play in question was started with an Atlanta jump shot that was corralled by Love. The second the shot went off Corey Brewer started to drift towards half court. When he saw that Love had the rebound, he turned on the jets. Love pivoted and delivered a strike to an in-stride Ramon Sessions who took a few dribbles and delivered a perfect bounce pass to the cutting Brewer for a two hand dunk. If Ryan Hollins or Al Jefferson get that defensive rebound, what do you think are the chances for a Brewer dunk? How do you measure the impact of something like this? Are Love rebounds worth more than Jefferson rebounds?
Kevin Love is off to a tremendous start this season. He has extended his range, improved his rebounding, increased his assist and steal rates, lowered his defensive rating, and increased his offensive one. He's the best player on this team by a country mile.
Before we get around to what Love's improvement means for another very specific player on the team, let's take a moment or two to sing the praises of Corey Brewer.
At the end of the day it will be noted that Joe Johnson had 21 points on 9-18 shooting. It should be put into the record that Brewer made him work for each and every single one of those points while keeping him out of the paint and away from the line. Brewer fought through a maze of screens all night long and he showed an amazing ability to keep the smooth-scoring Johnson somewhat off-balance (as off-balance as you can get with 20+ points) with an array of long arms, oddly-timed jump-outs, and pure grit. Brewer is actually fun to watch on defense. He really thinks about it and his effort and thought is obvious. For instance, watch how he closes out on jump shooters. He tries to use his quickness to make the aforementioned oddly-timed jump out so as to distract the shooter as much as possible. It's distracting on the shot and it allows him to stay in better position to cut off drives to the hoop. He's also one of the best players I've seen in terms of being able to cut off a pass to the wing. 6'9" guys have no business being as quick as he is and he really uses that to his advantage with man-to-man defense. Now, if only he could turn into a solid weak side defender. My guess for this aspect of his game is that his man-to-man instincts kick in far too much when the ball is on the opposite side of the court and he sags away from his man far too much with the idea that he needs to help his awful defending interior teammates (cough...Al Jefferson...cough). He gets burned for a corner three on an almost nightly basis and last night's game was no exception.
One more thing about Brewer: He is turning into something of a showman in the open court. Between the Derek Fisher poster dunk and last night's 2-handed transition slam, Brewer is taking the ball to the rim HARD and it has led to some of the only non-Love entertaining moments in several recent games.
OK, now that we have the good stuff out of the way, let's get around to the elephant in the room: Al Jefferson.
Here is a comment that was dropped in last night's game thread:
I don't single out this comment because I think it's invalid; rather, it made me think about what Jefferson really brings to the club, especially in light of having the night kicked off with comparisons to the 13-win 04 Hawks squad.
The comment has an interesting point but it also begs a question going in the opposite direction: What else does Al Jefferson bring to the table that could be combined with solid shooting (and good) teammates? On a night when Big Al didn't have it going offensively, and on a night where the Wolves were getting torched in the paint early on, what does Jefferson bring to the table? My big Big Al memories of the night were a) watching him try and fight Kevin Love for defensive rebounds that were in no danger of going to an Atlanta player, b) getting a text from someone at the game saying he got into a tussle with Rambis in the 2nd half, and c) hearing a teammate yell "AL!" at him in a futile attempt to get the big fella to turn around and stop a Hawk with a clear path to the bucket.
Knee injury or no knee injury, what exactly will Jefferson bring to the table besides upper-level interior scoring? Let's say that the Wolves do get a solid supporting cast. Is he good enough beyond the low right block to be a functional defender? Can he facilitate the action out of the high post or on a pinch post screen? I don't disagree with the commenter that Jefferson will be an even better interior scorer if he were surrounded by better shooters, but what about the rest of his game?
Last night's tilt was the first time I really completely believed that he'll get moved at some point during the next 2 years. Last night's tilt was the fist time I really thought that there is no way this guy will ever "get it" beyond the low right block. This is in no way suggesting that he is not of value or that he is not a tremendous player. What he is is a flawed player who is being paid to be a building block. You can't build around a guy that is not a two way player. That should be a basic basketball principle. Knee injury or no knee injury, Al Jefferson is not a two way player. He's a scorer. He's the last person on earth you want to have as the lynch pin in a motion-based offense that is supposed to thrive on ball movement. He's the last person on earth you want to partner with in an undersized defensive front court.
I'm not at the point where I'll opine for a Shaddy/Foye-esque death match between Jefferson and Love but I am at the point where I no longer believe it can work and that one of them will go. I think it's obvious who I would side with if ever such a contest came down the pike, but I no longer see a good way of making this happen. Not with the coaching changes and the amount of assets they've sunk into the point guard position. It's gotten to the point where I mutter an "oh crap" when Al comes in the game for Love. This team is transitioning to a perimeter-based system and they will throw some money at someone like Rudy Gay and/or Joe Johnson while drafting another wing. Al Jefferson is the last Minnesota dinosaur at this point and he doesn't have much longer until the asteroid hits.
Let's wrap this up with a few bullet points:
- It is really frustrating to watch Wayne Ellington miss open shots. I know that he is dealing with the new role of being a bench player but he was never a high usage guy at UNC and I was hoping that his ability to hit open shots would transfer well to the NBA.
- The Hawks had 28 shots in the 1st quarter. That's insane. To give you an idea of just how insane that is, the Milwaukee Bucks lead the league with 87.2 FGA/game. At the half, the Hawks were on pace to have 122 FGAs in the game. Thankfully, they took their foot off the gas in the 2nd half. I wish I had the numbers for 2nd chance points. The Hawks were getting trips down the court with 3-4 shots/possession. It wasn't all just offensive rebounding. The Wolves were making ridiculous errors that gave the Hawks the ball right back after a missed shot.
- Ryan Hollins developed a new way to lose hold of a ball during last night's game. He was going up for a layup when the rock suddenly shot out of his hands.
- Lost in the shuffle last night was the fact that the Wolves took 11 more free throws than the Hawks...and that they missed all 11 of them. Ish.
Well, that about does it for now.
lost this game at the line...and crawford can hit from the wing